Repurposing old off-patent drugs as new and effective cancer treatments

Repurposing old off-patent drugs as new and effective cancer treatments

Repurposing old drugs for use in cancer treatment

A minor revolution is occurring in UK cancer treatment and it concerns about 60 or so old non-cancer drugs, developed originally to treat parasite infections, diabetes, allergies or acne, but which have each now been found to have a previously little-known side-effect - they are effective against cancer. (Chris Woollams here reviews what repurposed drugs are all about)

Oncologists and Integrative cancer experts are now turning to these old drugs and using them as a part of the mix when treating cancer. The official term is ‘Drug repurposing’. It’s new drugs for old!

Let’s be clear. These drugs already exist, they have been around for years and doctors know exactly what they do and exactly what their side-effects are (usually slight). They include NSAIDs, cold remedies, sleeping drugs, diabetes drugs, anti-parasite remedies and antibiotics.

Oh, and by the way, these drugs are all now off-patent, so they are very cheap, and Big Pharma is not about to make money out of this - so they are not interested at best, and feel their profits threatened at worst. If they do feel threatened, out troop the usual collection of doctors and skeptics to rubbish the idea.

But in truth, it’s a good idea. A very good idea. And already there are people surviving longer, much longer, by using these non-cancer approved drugs.

Old repurposed drugs can increase survival times and even cure cancer

Dr. Charles (Snuffy) Myers, a top US oncologist formerly with both the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Health, created a drug called suramin (an AIDS drug that blocks cancer cell growth). When he developed prostate cancer he used suramin, which he knew could help fight prostate cancer, along with dutasteride (an anti-oestrogen that is normally used to reduce benign prostate enlargement). He also formed a group at the NCI looking at repurposed drugs with promise for prostate cancer - like phenylacetate, phenylbutyrate and geldanamycin. He has just retired from running The Prostate Forum, a help organisation he created in the USA.

In April 2015, Professor Ben Williams, a septuagenarian, paid a visit to London - he beat his brain cancer (the worst sort, a glioblastoma) back in 1995 by adding an antacid, a blood pressure drug and an acne medicine to his doctor’s recognised brain tumour medicines. 

Go to: How Professor Ben Williams beat his brain cancer using old repurposed drugs

It worked. 20 years after diagnosis, and over a decade since the last signs, Ben can genuinely say he beat terminal cancer. A film has been made of his story by Dominic Hall – it is called Surviving Terminal Cancer’ and the UK launch is supported by the Brain Tumour Charity.

The point, as in all cancer, is that these people tailored their treatment package to their personal situation and cancer type.

New Drugs for Old

Over the last few years CANCERactive has regularly covered research in its Latest News section on old drugs increasing survival, or helping chemotherapy work better, and so on. For example: 

   * NSAID indomethacin - We have told you that an old-anti-inflammatory drug Indomethacin increases survival in people with serious ovarian cancer.

   * Flufenamic acid - We told you that this common cold remedy has been shown by Japanese researchers to block a system cancer cells use to develop resistance to chemotherapy. Why would oncologists not want to use it?

   * Chloroquinone - An old anti-malaria drug can increase the lifespan of drugs used to treat BRAF mutations in brain tumors, melanoma and so on.

   * Anthistamines like Cimetidine and Loratadine - Be clear, no one is really saying that taking an antihistamine is going to kill your cancer tumour off. But cancer cells have been shown to have histamine receptors. And histamines can cause cancer cells to become inflamed, and thus sticky - this helps cancer spread, and metastases decreases survival times.

In 2002 Clinical Trials, of people having Colorectal surgery, 47 per cent did not survive 3 years. But with those taking Cimetidine, this figure fell to just 5 per cent, according to cancer center Johns Hopkins.. 

Similarly, Swedish research showed that women with breast cancer who were coincidentally taking anti-histamines (such as Desloratidine or Loratidine) survived up to 50 per cent longer than those who weren’t. They probably only took these cheap drugs for 10 weeks a year!

   * Atorvastatin - this small statin is used by oncologists such as Professor Angus Dalgleish at St George's, London, to reduce blood cholesterol. Two studies in 2017 showed that only about 10 per cent of cancer cells posses the ability to spread. These cells have a factor CD36, which causes fat to wrap round their sticky surface, so that they can spread without the immune system 'recognising' them. Cancer patients who have higher levels of blood fat have more metastases and survive least according to the research. A non-drug alternative would be lycopene. 

   * Metformin, the successful diabetes drug, is used to lower blood sugar and thus reduces the ability of cancer cells to feed. Indeed, there has already been some good research on its use as a part of a cancer treatment package, for example with Temozolomide and brain tumours and also in colorectal cancer treatment too, where Johns Hopkins showed that sugar starvation increased survival times. In prostate cancer, some oncologists are adding metformin and a small statin into the treatment mix. The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that breast cancer patients who start using metformin after diagnosis are 50% more likely to survive than non-users. The herb Berberine cuts blood sugar like metformin, and has cancer cell killing abilities via the AMPK pathway, plus being an anti-inflammatory compound.

It's not just about blood sugar reduction. MD Anderson in their review on metformin talk of it affecting multiple cancer signalling pathways relating to cell growth, proliferation and cell survival. In prostate cancer it seems to help Androgen Deprivation Therapy and reduce cancer cell proliferation.

Go To: Metformin aids cancer survival

   * Aspirin - A proven anti-inflammatory agent, inflammation is a precursor to cancer and a fundamental requirement, if a cancer is to spread. In 2012, Oxford University and the Radcliffe showed that people taking a daily 75 mg mini-aspirin developed less cancers; and if they had cancer, they survived longer and had less metastases. Research from the Francis Crick Institute in London shows that aspirin reduces levels of inflammation on cancer cells via the PEG2 prostaglandin, and helps the immune system better see the cancer.

   * Phenergan and chlomipramine -  affect the energy production system of a cell, the very piece that goes wrong in a cancer cell. We have covered both on CANCERactive’s website. While chlomipramine didn’t work too well as an anti-cancer agent on its own, in research with brain cancer drug Temozolomide the results of the latter were greatly improved. Chlomipramine is a tricyclic antidepressant; Phenergan (promethazine) another tricyclic amine with anti-nausea, antihistamine, sedative and weak antipsychotic benefits.

   * Mebendazole, or MBZ, is approved to treat worms and has been around since 1970. It stops the synthesis of their microtubules. Its manufacture was suddenly discontinued in 2011 in the USA about the same time evidence started to appear that it could stop cancer cell growth and secondary tumours in a variety of cancers like GBM, lung cancer and melanoma. It can, however, cause diarrhoea and liver problems.

Go To: Pinworm drug, Mebendazole, fights cancer

   * Doxycycline is an antibiotic. However it has been shown to have anti-cancer benefits at the mitochondrial level. It seems to correct cancer stem cells and turn them into ordinary cancer cells. The researchers from Salford in Manchester, UK, suggested that IVC and Berberine could then kill the cancer cells.

Go to: one study with vitamin C, Doxycycline was shown to kill cancer stem cells.

   * Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) is another drug full of potential. At CANCERactive we know of several people who have held their cancers, like colorectal and prostate, stable for a number of years. LDN stimulates opioid and endorphin release from the brain, and these have significant pain relieving, immune-boosting, and anti-cancer effects. LDN seems to work better by ’pulsing’ and in the presence of alpha lipoid acid (ALA) and vitamin D.

Go to: The anti-cancer benefits of LDN

   * Itraconazole is a triazole antifungal drug first launched in 1984. It has recently been explored as an anti-cancer agent with basal cell carcinoma, non-small cell lung cancer and prostate cancer – the last, in phase II clinical trials showing significant falls in PSA levels.

   * Isotretinoin, or Accutane, is a form of retinoic acid and used in cases of severe acne and genital warts, where it is highly effective. It was removed from the US market by manufacturer, Roche, after a number of claims that it caused IBS. It has already been used as an anti-cancer chemotherapy in the USA as it destroys rapidly dividing cells. There is some evidence it works against brain tumours preventing reoccurence and it has been used against skin cancer. It does however seem to have more than its fair share of side-effects.

So, that is just a few of the drugs re-inventing themselves. (Sorry, 'repurposing' themselves.) We also have a review of the top ’cheap’, repurposed drugs by Dr. Julian Kenyon: Go to: A REVIEW OF COMMON DRUGS AND THEIR USE AGAINST CANCER

Will oncologists use these repurposed drugs?

Oncologists are polarising. In the UK, the Saatchi bill, which was vetoed by the Liberal Democrats in the UK parliament at the 11th hour, would have given doctors the freedom to try anything to fight cancer, especially in terminal cases.

Some oncologists are sceptical. Dosage is an important issue. Doctors don’t want to get that wrong. They know how much to use for acne – but how much for cancer? Then there’s the cocktail effect. Who knows what could happen if you chuck another two drugs into the mix? And the usually suportative drugs companies aren't interested. There's no money in drugs that are off patent.

However, many oncologists think this is just alarmist and that combinations of these old drugs are almost side-effect-free and have the potential to hold a cancer in a stable state for several years or more. And this is a wonderful concept for someone told their cancer is terminal. Already, we are seeing metformin creeping in to the cancer drug mix in the UK.

A privately funded group, The Anticancer Fund, are working with a group in America to fund cliinical trials on old drugs. The project is called ReDO (Repurposing Drugs in Oncology). Here’s hoping. They have identified six drugs as a start; unfortunately, the web page seems to have been hacked on several occasions in just the past months

Ignoring repurposed drugs is foolish

The issue to my mind is incredibly simple. In a terminal situation such as my daughter Catherine had with her glioblastoma, you obviously research your options. And if there are simple ways of reducing blood sugar, inflammation, stopping spread, making the orthodox treatments work better, and more, you would be foolish not to consider them. Moreover, I simply cannot understand why anyone would come between a 22 year old girl with terminal cancer and perhaps another 3 months or 3 years of life or even a potential cure. While I fully understand Big Pharma’s position, it is one thing to ignore it all and hope it goes away; quite another thing if they were found to be involved in the negative attacks via sceptics and other channels.

Repurposed drugs for cancer in the UK

Oncologists such as Professor Angus Dalgleish and Professor Justin Stebbing have been using old, repurposed drugs for a good few years, and have ’inspired’ the use of the same at the Care Oncology Clinic in Harley Street. However Care Oncology is using the same 4 drugs whatever the cancer in the hope of completing a clinical trial. I'm not too sure that their desires fit with the best patient needs. What works with prostate cancer may be poor with brain tumours or colorectal cancer. They have also been known to take patients off supplements like Artemisinin and Berberine, despite research showing clear benefits.  Dr. Julian Kenyon of The Dove Clinic has used old repurposed drugs successfully for a number of years.

All in all, everyone with cancer should keep an open mind to the potential inclusion of repurposed old drugs in their Integrative Treatment package. And, at CANCERactive, we've not deviated from this view in more than a decade.


Readers might also like to read about the following common drugs and their actions in cancer:

Cimetidine (Tagamet) Click Here

Aspirin Click Here

Metformin Click Here

Chlomipramine Click Here

Phenergan Click Here

Low Dose Naltrexone Click Here

Safe Conventional Drugs Can Be Used to Treat Cancer
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